Amidst increasing talk of a “soft coup” against President Trump, in the nature of an impeachment, the question that naturally arises is: If an impeachment were to fail, would it be constitutional for the Pentagon and the CIA to oust Trump from office and either assume power temporarily in a “transition to democracy” or simply elevate Vice-President Pence to the presidency?
Now, before anyone cries “conspiracy theory,” which is the term the CIA secretly invented to distract attention away from the Kennedy assassination, permit me to point out that there are lots of people in the mainstream press who are calling for Trump’s impeachment, notwithstanding the fact that he’s barely been in office for a bit more than 3 months.
Moreover, before Trump’s election the Los Angeles Times, which is about as mainstream as a newspaper can be, published an op-ed that posed the possibility of a military coup against Trump. The op-ed, titled “If Trump Wins, a Coup Isn’t Impossible Here in the U.S.,” concluded with the following sentence: “Trump is not only patently unfit to be president, but a danger to America and the world. Voters must stop him before the military has to.”
Obviously, impeachment of Trump would be constitutional because that’s a method for removing a president from office that the Constitution provides. Under the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to impeach, but that’s only an accusation, similar to a grand jury indictment in criminal cases. A trial is then held in the U.S. Senate. If the president is convicted, he is automatically removed from office.
However, the Constitution does not permit Congress to remove a president simply because they don’t like him or disagree with his policies or philosophy. To remove the president from office in an impeachment process, he must be convicted of what the Constitution calls a “high crime or misdemeanor.”
Most of the time, a president and the national-security establishment are on the same page when it comes to matters relating to “national security.”
But what if the president began adopting policies that were contrary to what the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA believed were necessary to national security.
Suppose, for example, that President Trump established friendly relations with Russian president Putin and began sharing with him classified information in a joint effort to fight terrorism.
Suppose Trump decided that NATO was the root cause of the crisis with Russia over Ukraine and decided that it would be best to withdraw completely from the organization.
Suppose Trump decided that Korea was none of the U.S. government’s business and ordered the Pentagon to implement an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Korea.
Suppose Trump opposed the NSA’s surveillance schemes and issued an executive order prohibiting any more surveillance without a regular judicial warrant (i.e., not a secretive FISA court warrant).
Suppose Trump decided to end America’s forever wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and ordered an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from that part of the world.
On top of it all, suppose there was a severe economic crisis, one entailing a plummeting in stock market and the value of the dollar and an industry-wide banking collapse, much like what happened during the Great Depression.
Obviously, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA would firmly believe that Trump’s actions would pose a grave threat to national security. So would lots of other people, including many in Congress, the federal judiciary, and mainstream press.
Suppose, impeachment proceedings were instituted in order to save the United States from falling to the terrorists, the Taliban, and the Muslims.
Suppose, however, that not enough votes could be secured to impeach Trump.
What then? Would the nation have to wait for the next election? By that time, it could be too late. The nation, as we know it, could be gone.
Nope because that’s pretty much what happened in Chile in the early 1970s.
In the 1970 presidential election, Chilean voters gave a plurality of votes to a man named Salvador Allende, who believed in socialism and communism. Under the Chilean constitution, the election was thrown into the Chilean congress, which proceeded to elect Allende president.
The Chilean national security establishment (Chile, like post-WW2 United States, was a national-security state) vehemently opposed Allende’s socialist-communist philosophy and programs.
They weren’t the only ones. So did U.S. officials, including those in the national-security section of the federal government, e.g., the Pentagon and the CIA.
Not surprisingly, Allende’s socialist economic programs began causing economic chaos within the country. The chaos was made even worse by measures that the CIA was secretly taking to make the chaos and suffering even worse, with the aim of encouraging people to welcome a military coup that would oust Allende from power.
There was one big problem, however: Like the U.S. Constitution, the Chilean constitution did not provide for a military coup as a means to oust a democratically elected president from office. Like the U.S. Constitution, the Chilean constitution provided for impeachment as the way to remove the president from office.
Another big problem was that impeachment measures by Allende’s enemies had failed.
What then? Here was a president who still had another three years to go on a six-year term. By the time, some people argued, the country would be gone.
Oh! Here’s another factor to consider: Allende was reaching out to Moscow and Havana in a spirit of peace and friendship. He wanted nothing to do with the Cold War that the U.S. government was waging against Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and the other parts of the communist world.
Based on Allende’s self-avowed allegiance to communism and socialism and, even worse, his reaching out to Moscow and Havana in peace and friendship, U.S. officials decided that Allende posed a threat to national security not only in Chile but also within the United States.
U.S. officials proposed a military coup, even though that was illegal under the Chilean constitution.
Another big problem arose: The overall commanding general of the Chilean armed forces, a man named Rene Schneider, refused to permit a coup. His position was that Allende had been democratically elected in a legitimate election. Since impeachment had failed, Schneider maintained, the only proper thing to do now was to wait until the next election, no matter how bad things got economically. Schneider maintained that he had taken an oath to support and defend the constitution of his country and that was precisely what he intended to do, which meant no coup.
Since Schneider posed an insurmountable obstacle to a coup, U.S. officials conspired to remove him from office through a violent CIA-instigated kidnapping attempt using Chilean thugs. When the armed Schneider fought back, the kidnappers shot him dead. His successor was pressured out of office and replaced with a general who was amenable to a coup.
Here the kicker: From 1970 to 1973, the Pentagon and the CIA were doing their to convince their Chilean national-security counterparts that they had a moral duty to save the country from Allende by violently removing him from power. Their argument went something like this: Even though a nation’s constitution doesn’t provide for a coup as a means of removing the president, the constitution is not a “suicide pact.” Since Chile wouldn’t last another 3 years under Allende, U.S. officials maintained, it was incumbent on the military and intelligence services to save the country by removing the president from office with a coup.
On September 11, 1973, that is precisely what the Chilean national-security establishment did, to the glee of U.S. officials, including those with in the U.S. national-security establishment. Attacking Allende’s position in the national palace with infantry, armor, and air force, the national security branch of the government easily won the intra-governmental war and took power, establishing a regime that then proceeded to round up, kidnap, incarcerate, torture, rape, abuse, assassinate, or execute tens of thousands of people who were suspected of being communists, socialists, or supporters of Allende. In the process, at the behest of U.S. intelligence officials the Chilean goons executed two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.
The Chilean federal courts, not surprisingly, went silent and, even worse, actually became supportive of the regime. The judges knew what would happen to them if they even dared hint at the unconstitutionality of the coup.
The Chilean people learned several valuable lessons in the coup.
One lesson was: It doesn’t matter what a nation’s constitution says when the nation has adopted a national-security state governmental structure. Even though the Constitution doesn’t expressly provide for a coup as a way to remove a president, as a de facto matter, the conversion of a government to a national-security state automatically amends the nation’s constitution to provide for a military coup to remove the president.
Another lesson they learned was: If the coup comes, there will be those who welcome it and express gratitude for it, even though it’s illegal under the nation’s constitution.